The next installment in Cult Epics' Vintage Erotica series covers a collection of surprisingly elaborate and funny shorts made in France during the 1920s, with costumes, brief plots, literary riffing, and intertitles elevating standard bonking into something a bit more engaging.
Licensed from Editions Astarte and originally spread over 4 volumes, the shorts are pretty well-worn - it's a miracle they managed to survive another playing to create a video master - but for the most part they're quite watchable. The lone exception is " Un apres-midi a la fumiere," which deals with an opium den gradually populated by nekkid women. Scratched to hell and exceptionally murky, it's sometimes tough to figure out details, but the short does acquires a curious artistic quality, as the physical degradation of the film stock becomes a surreal, impressionist film that seemingly disintegrates during the projection.
Back in 2002, filmmaker Bill Morrison constructed an experimental film called Decasia that set industrial sounds & music by Michael Gordon to edited footage which had been traumatized by necrotic nitrate stock. The blobs of decay from acid, water exposure, static, and mold made a strong statement on the ephemeral nature on our living history, and while here it's porn with marginally imaginative mis-en-scene, the erosion of filmed human sexuality is just as hypnotic for the harsh textures that are assaulting active & interlocked human forms. In the case of "Le telegraphiste," you have to chuckle, though, when a swollen member is still discernable beneath the streams of scratches and brutal contrasts that burn out entire shots.
The film transfer speeds are a pretty zippy - it's sometimes hard to read the already brief French-only intertitles in shorts like "Le satyre Casimir" and "Le lesson de piano" - and some shorts were clearly re-photographed from a projection screen decades ago; the reasons are probably the obvious: negatives no longer existed, and getting a lab to duplicate a naughty title was rather risky for the well-to-do that possessed the shorts. For these affected films, the intertitles are canted, and the lighting and cropped framing makes it tough to read complete sentences.
One of the shorts might be familiar to collectors of vintage erotica and porn: "Les mesaventures de monsieur Gross'Bitt" is actually a lude, crude, and super-rude sepia-toned short that appeared in an early 1970s compilation feature (the name evades me, but it may well have been the 1974 film, Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival). Presented with French intertitles, this is an animated short of a man and his detachable pickle and crown jewels that was allegedly drawn and rendered by disgruntled animators working after hours at the Max Fleischer studios. The mobile pickle uses its cajones to run from a scorpion, and later engages in a priapic duel when its owner is angered by a rival dude, busy buggering a horse.
Most of the shorts use the standard scenario of a man with a woman who invites another woman and partake in a three-way whoopee session, although sexual aids come up in "L'amour chez Minouche," where two women open a box and admire a shiny new strap-on before giving it a test run. A man soon appears, and with another woman, they begin an orgy.
"Le pedicure enflamme" also balances out gay and lesbian scenarios and lesbian sessions, as does "Les bas-fonds Napolitains" ('the lower depths of Neapolitans'), which is also the best-looking short in this collection, in terms of its physical condition. Here, two couples swap for straight and gay pleasuring, and one can tell the performers are following the calls of an off-screen director who's no doubt keeping a cautious eye on the footage count to ensure enough combos fill up a complete reel.
As bonus material, the DVD adds fifty vintage stills (some colour tinted) that range from elegant to hairy n' raunchy, plus the bonus short "Le verrou" (previously archived on the Anno 1930 collection) with a new score by Marcel Fragobard et le epopee de culte sinfonietta. Most of the shorts have a variable mix of ethnic, jazz, chamber, and sinfonietta music, although setting "Au clair de la lune" to Debussy's piano composition might change the more genteel images and sentiments shared by the composer's ardent admirers.
It'll be interesting to see what Cult Epics uncovers if the label chooses to continue their line of vintage erotica by showcasing naughty loops from the 1960s and 1970s - if any loops and short films were still being actively made by then. A few of the Something Weird titles have included naughty shorts from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, but there's a definite shift from the whimsy and silliness of the 1920s to fantasies of stalking, abduction and humiliation that crept into the post-WWII shorts. Perhaps the exceptions are shorts made by experimental filmmakers, of which some work appeared in the aforementioned (and trippy) erotic film festival compilation.
This title is available separately or as part of The Vintage Erotica Collection boxed set, which houses volumes Anno 1920, Anno 1930, Anno 1940, and Anno 1950, and Anno 1960 in slim cases.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan